Wednesday, January 17, 2007

How Baptist are Baptists?
Further to yesterday's post (which will take you to lots of links for UK Baptists and some discussions on our identity and structures), today I was in a discussion about how Baptist are some of our Baptist churches? There was a huge diversity in approaches to appointing leaders, including new members, making decisions etc.
There was a realisation in some of our conversations that the structures we have in many churches reflect the structures of voluntary organisations, business or members clubs from a bygone era: Secretary, Treasurer and Chair etc., members meetings, AGM's etc. How do we adapt those in a fast changing multi-cultural city, while remaining true to our roots (and legal for trust deeds and constitutions?).
How do we encourage belonging, participation etc.?



Anonymous claire said...

I have recently been part of the accreditation process to become a baptist youth specialist. One of the (many) interviews I had during my residential in november was one entitled 'denominational calling and commitment'. I was asked 'how baptist is the church that you're in at the moment?'. How does one even begin to go about answering that sort of a question, especially in that context?! How my answer reflected on my calling as a youth pastor is another conversation entirely perhaps!

It got me thinking about this very question though. For the same process I had to do some history and principles reading and essay writing and found the roots of the baptist church really encouraging in people's desire to do fellowship and commitment (whatever the situation) with each other. And yet somewhere that's got a little distorted by strange voluntary organisation type stuff which doesn't make sense to me often let alone the generation rising or other cultural backgrounds! Guess it's something to do with flawed humans being involved?! Must press through to find relevant expression today however.

5:29 pm  
Blogger Ray said...

You seem to suggest that formally constitued committees (secretary, treasurer, etc) are somehow outdated (from a bygone era) or are only useful for observing legal form.

I'm not sure if that is your view, but I find it a slightly depressing and growing trend in churches that clergy in particular want to break away from the structures of accountability that they see as holding them back.

Last summer I lost my job working for a group of Anglican churches whose leadership team pretty much bypasased the formally constituted Parochial Church Council. The PCC for its part did not properly oversee my management committee (which they had not set up) and nobody realised until it was too late that the management comittee had neglected to meet or ask anybody for money for the youth project. More recently those churches have announced that they are £30K (I'm not going to see any back expenses any time soon!).

I now work for a Baptist Church with a formally constituted leadership team, that meets monthly, which I as youth worker am expected to attend (unheard of!), and where the treasurer presents a detailed monthly set of accounts. The difference is refreshing.

Of course formal committees should not slow churches dowm, but used properly they play a vital role in setting controls, challenging group-think and limiting abuse.

How do we encourage belonging and participation? Of equal importance, how do we encourage accountability? Ironically those 'old style' committees have a grater capacity to do exactly that by ensuring that everybody has a voice and all decisions are publicised. The unaccountable leadership quango that meets behind closed doors rarely encourages belonging or participation - not at any significant level anyway.

4:03 pm  
Blogger Pete Lev said...

Thanks for your comments!
I think that that consituted committees, structures etc. are very important. But in London we have people coming from different cultures to whom these tools are alien. Leadership, belonging and decision making look different to them. Add to that the post-modern suspicion of instutions and you have an interesting mix! Many people are reluctant to become formal church members or take on "named" leadership roles, despite their gifting. I don't want to throw the "baby out with the bath water", but am keen to explore other ways of organising things that allow growth, but with accountability.

4:16 pm  
Blogger Ray said...

Thanks for a swift response.

I too am involved (now) with a culturally and ethnically diverse Reading church. And, yes, I recognise those issues. But although the 'form' of a leadership structure may vary from culture to culture, the kinds of people that end up in those roles probably does not. The problem comes when the forward-lookers don't recognise the gifts of the fussy-thinkers and vice versa.

The most helpful insight that I found into the issue was in Charles Handy's 'Understanding Voluntary Organisations' (which includes the church, whether we like it or not :-) ). He pointed out that teams are diffferent to committees. They serve diferent purposes. A team works together to move things forward; a committee asks questions and sets controls. A team is not a committee and a committee is not a team, but both are needed and both need to inter-relate.

5:07 pm  

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